Rutgers sued for religious discrimination
New Brunswick, NJ – Rutgers University was sued Monday, Dec. 30, 2002, by the Rutgers InterVarsity Multi-Ethnic Christian Fellowship to stop the university from discriminating against the organization. The civil rights lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.
The fellowship, an interdenominational Christian organization, requires its officers to be professing Christians. Rutgers says it will not recognize the fellowship or grant it equal access to facilities and funds unless it reverses this policy. According to David French, the attorney representing the InterVarsity Multi-Ethnic Christian Fellowship, "Rutgers’ demand threatens the fellowship’s very existence as a Christian organization. As such, it violates the fellowship's rights of free speech, free association and free exercise of religion in the selection of its officers.
"The issue is whether organizations can choose their own leadership," French said. "There is no applicable New Jersey or federal law that can plausibly be read to constitutionally require the fellowship to open its leadership to those individuals who do not subscribe to the fellowship’s purpose statement or basis of faith."
Cost for the litigation is provided by the Alliance Defense Fund, a national legal servant organization. The Alliance Defense Fund provides strategy, training, and funding in the legal battle for religious liberty, sanctity of life, and traditional family values.
"Rutgers is engaged in viewpoint discrimination, pure and simple," French said. "The university is denying benefits to the InterVarsity Multi-Ethnic Christian Fellowship because the fellowship does not conform to the state’s – in this case, New Jersey’s – ideology and message. But that’s unconstitutional. A public university cannot restrict the fellowship’s free speech this way."
The fellowship is now forbidden from accessing student fee funds available to other student organizations. It is also not permitted to use campus facilities for meetings and events like other groups.
InterVarsity’s purpose statement simply says "The purpose of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA is to establish and advance at colleges and universities witnessing communities of students and faculty who follow Jesus as Savior and Lord: growing in love for God, God’s Word, God’s people of every ethnicity and culture, and God’s purposes in the world."
The InterVarsity Multi-Ethnic Christian Fellowship on Rutgers campus "would like to choose leaders who support its statement of faith, to be recognized as it should be as a campus student organization and to access student funds and campus facilities the same as every other recognized group," French said. "That would be fair, constitutional treatment of the fellowship."
Rutgers’ approach collides with rulings of the Supreme Court of the United States, French explained. "The Supreme Court has reaffirmed its commitment to freedom of association when it said in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, 530 U.S. 640 (2000) that ‘implicit in the right to engage in activities protected by the First Amendment is a corresponding right to associate with others in pursuit of a wide variety of political, social, economic, educational, religious, and cultural ends.’ Obviously, requiring a Christian group to accommodate atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, agnostic or other leadership that disagrees with, or opposes the organization, significantly impairs that group’s ability to advocate for its cause."